A few years ago, two anonymous boys inherited a bunch of radio broadcasting equipment from a university radio station that was upgrading. Wanting to operate legitimately, they attempted to go through the proper, legal channels to get a license. However, because there are only a finite number of licenses in existence, and purchasing a new frequency from the FCC is extremely expensive, they were forced to broadcast pirate.
In general, the small number of licenses the FCC offers, and the need for big money to get them, are the reasons radio is dominated by huge companies like Clear Channel Communications. Even NPR is a culprit in corporate radio domination--a few years ago, there was a lobby to make more licenses available for smaller range stations, and NPR put forth one of the biggest oppositions at the hearings.
So now, having no other choice, the founders of the Portland Radio Authority will be running their pirate station from an undisclosed, central area of Portland, and broadcasting from somewhere between 90 and 93 FM, as yet to be decided. They plan to start broadcasting gradually and inform people of showtimes through email lists (send inquiries to thePRA@hotmail.com). PRA intends to be a free-form music station with "the one broadcast requirement being, that if you can already find it on the radio in this town, we do not need to play it."
According to one co-founder, if they are caught broadcasting, there are two possible outcomes. "Either Federal Marshals kick down your door and take everything you have, or the FCC shows up and tells you to stop it. The new chairman is pretty sympathetic [to people like us]." Because of anonymity issues, the station is not hiring outside DJs.
This is the PRA's second attempt at pirate broadcasting. Their first was when they still lived in Seattle (they've both recently transplanted), but found the underground community there to be fragmented and disinterested. In Portland, however, they've found people to be responsive and supportive. "The only way I can describe it," says one of the co-founders, "is that being in a band in Seattle, I never felt like anyone gave a shit, but Portland is the opposite. Art shows with rock bands--you'd never see that. Here, there's a weird marriage among clubs and bands and the art community."
This Friday, the PRA will hold a benefit show at the Blackbird to money for their super-powerful broadcasting antenna. Featured bands are Chuck, The Dutch Flat, Building Press, and the Super Unity jazz trio (entertaining in between sets). The PRA hopes to be on the air by early April, so if you like underground radio, go and pay the cover.